Labour 'could go further' than £6,000 cap, says Mahmood
Labour could lower tuition fees below the party's current proposals for a £6,000 threshold if it takes power in the next general election, shadow higher education minister Shabana Mahmood has indicated.
But speaking during a fringe event at the party's conference in Manchester last night, Ms Mahmood also conceded that the balance between fees and direct state funding could not be restored to pre-2010 levels.
Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, has previously said the party would lower the maximum fee charged by universities from £9,000 to £6,000 if it were in power at present.
Ms Mahmood said: "No option is off the table and prioritising the next generation of students is a very important thing for us.
"But obviously you can't quite predict where we're going to end up in 2015. [A] £6,000 [threshold] can work straight away...whether we get to the same place in 2015, I don't know. But if we can go further, we will," she said.
The fringe event, titled "Funding our universities, is business the answer?", was hosted by Dods and PoliticsHome. Ms Mahmood had been asked by event chair Paul Waugh, editor of PoliticsHome, whether Labour would go lower than £6,000.
She said the £6,000 plan was "revenue neutral, based on their own [the government's] figures and independent figures from the House of Commons library", and would use revenue-raising plans to "reverse the corporation tax cut for the banks and ask the wealthiest graduates to pay a little bit more".
Addressing the question of whether business funding was the answer for universities, Ms Mahmood said there was "scope for it to be a bigger part of the answer".
But, she argued, the state still had "a key role to play" in funding. The coalition's 80 per cent cut to the teaching grant meant that "the state is walking away from teaching in our higher education institutions" and the move "completely upsets the balance of responsibilities that I think we [Labour] achieved post-1997", Ms Mahmood said.
She added: "Getting back to a place of a better balance [between fees and direct state funding], even if it can't be what it was before the 2010 general election...is going to be a key priority for us."